“How to prevent snails from eating hostas?” Question from Madelaine of Irmo, South Carolina
Answer: There are lots of great products on the market that ward off slugs and snails. Some are even OMRI Listed for organic gardening. Here are my top three favorite slug repellents and deterrents.
Pelletized Iron Phosphate Killers – These include products like Sluggo and Bonide Slug Magic. The products are safe to use around pets and wildlife.
Diatomaceous Earth – Sand-like diatomaceous earth is very sharp at the micro-level, and cuts through the tender exteriors of slugs and snails. Add a layer around your hostas before they emerge in spring, and it should really help. It is typically OMRI Listed and completely safe for pets, wildlife, and humans.
“How can I keep bugs and slugs from destroying my tomato fruit? They totally decimated my crop this year leaving me nothing to can for the winter months.” Question from Sylvia of Belle Plaine, Minnesota
Answer: There are several things that you can do to ensure that insects and slugs don’t damage your tomatoes. Here are six methods.
Six Ways to Stop Pests From Eating Tomatoes
Clean your vegetable beds up completely in the fall, and till lightly in the spring. This will remove any overwintering pest eggs.
In the spring, apply a layer of quality compost as a surface mulch to stop weeds and create an open, weed-free layer to keep slugs away (slugs often hide in weeds).
Use tall tomato cages, and prune your tomatoes to keep developing fruits off of the ground and away from slugs and critters.
Apply diatomaceous earth at the base of your tomato plants to deter slugs. You can also use Sluggo, a good slug killer that is approved for organic gardening.
Plant your tomatoes in the full sun (8+ hours) at least 3-4 feet apart, leaving space between plants. This will discourage slugs, which cannot withstand the sun and avoid open ground.
Apply BT spray, which is also approved for organic gardening, if tomato hornworms or other caterpillars attack your plants and fruits.
“I have two baby royal empress trees, something is eating at the leaves. Any tips on how I can kick start these for maxim growth each season?” Question from Lizzy of Ocala, Florida.
Answer: Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) is a fast-growing tree from China with lovely violet-purple flowers in spring. Surprisingly it does not have any serious known pests here in the United States, but there are a few that can cause limited damage. The only pests you may have to worry about when trees are at the young stage are slugs, snails, and possibly rabbits. Your damage looks like slug or snail damage, but it does not look bad. The new growth appears to be healthy and thriving. If you are really concerned, you can try putting down some of the organic slug control, Sluggo (follow manufacturer’s instructions). I would also check the bottom of the pots or pot edges for slugs, remove the pests on sight, and keep the plants in full sun. Once the trees are large enough, be sure to plant them in the yard.
Once your trees start to flower and set fruit, they will self-sow pretty aggressively. Be sure to remove any seedlings that pop up. This tree is listed as invasive in Florida and can really become a problem in your yard and beyond.
“I have a Brugmansia, and something is eating at the leaves. I have tried soapy water with oil, and I have tried broad-spectrum herbicides. Please Help!” Question from Lizzy of Ocala, Florida
Answer: Your pictures came through! The damage is caused by chewing pests and there are several that will attack Brugmansia. Cabbage moth caterpillars (cabbage loopers), snails, and slugs will all chew on Brugmansia. Tomato hornworms will too, but this looks more like slug or cabbage looper damage.
Cabbage Looper Inspection and Management
Start by checking the plants from top to bottom for little green caterpillars. If you find them, these are cabbage loopers. You might also see little white moths flittering around your plants. These are cabbage looper moths. The easiest way to get rid of loopers is to simply remove them by hand and put them in soapy water. If you find loopers, also check for clusters of small, round, yellowish eggs on the bottom of leaves. These are looper eggs and must be scraped off. To further manage loopers, you can sprinkle the plants with BT, which is approved for organic gardening and only harms the caterpillars chewing on your plants.
Slug or Snail Inspection and Management
Slugs or snails like to hang out beneath or just below the soil line of pots, so this is the first place to check for them. They come out at night to do their damage. There are several organic ways to keep them away from your Brugmansia. I would purchase some diatomaceous earth and sprinkle it liberally on the surface of your potting soil. To us, it feels like coarse sand, but to slugs, it is very damaging. It cuts their soft exteriors and keeps them away. You could also apply a thick layer of perlite on the top of your potting soil. Slugs don’t like it either.
Brugmansias grow so quickly that pretty soon a little chewing damage won’t do them any harm. In fact, I would upgrade your plant in a larger pot as soon as it bursts forth. In just a few months a plant can grow as much as three feet and eventually reach huge proportions (15-feet or more unless yours is a dwarf variety). I recommend planting in Black Gold® Moisture Supreme Container Mix. Also be sure to add extra flower fertilizer because they are really heavy feeders.
“Does beer really kill slugs and snails and how? Also, what’s the best way to use it if it does?” Question from Greg of Olympia, Washington
Answer: Yes! Beer is a safe way to attract and kill slugs. The yeasty sweet smell lures them and the ethanol in the beer kills them, or they simply fall into the traps and drown. The key to a smart slug beer trap is covering it in a way that just targets the slugs that feast on your vegetables, hostas, and other favorite plants. (Other insects desirable critters may also be attracted to beer as well as the neighborhood dogs.)
How to Make a Slug-Only Beer Trap
Take an empty lidded plastic container headed for the recycling bin. (A large yogurt or cottage cheese container works well). Cut four elongated holes 3 inches up from the base of the container, so you have enough space to add the beer. Set the container down into the soil, so the holes are just at ground level. Fill the container with cheap beer (the sweeter the better) and the slugs will enter into a blissful demise. Large holes may be needed to accommodate snails.